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Denim production a sustainability issue across the globe

Denim, a fixture of the apparel industry and a wardrobe staple for millions around the world has become an area of concern linked to a number of sustainability issues. Water is extensively used in the supply chain, beginning in the fields where cotton, denim’s raw component, is grown. It takes over 20,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of cotton, roughly equivalent to just one T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Denim production often involves the use of chemicals. Irresponsible use and disposal of dyes or chemicals used in the production process can have devastating environmental consequences. Chemicals that have not been properly treated before disposal can lead to serious pollution problems. Rivers in China have turned blue due to wastewater from dyeing being dumped directly into the water.

Denim has also been associated with labor injustices along the entire supply chain. On the production floor, sandblasting—a process used to make denim look more worn and faded—can seriously damage workers’ health and lead to silicosis, a potentially lethal pulmonary disease. This risk becomes even greater when sandblasting is performed without proper equipment. While Turkey banned the practice in 2009, sandblasting has since moved to less regulated countries such as Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, and Egypt.